01/27/2014 05:00 EST | Updated 03/28/2014 05:59 EDT

CHEO finds combining cancer treatments makes big difference

Researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario have found two experimental cancer-fighting treatments work much more effectively when they’re combined.

Ottawa researchers had been looking at ways to combine current treatments as a faster way to develop therapies than starting from scratch, according to a CHEO news release.

Results published Monday in the journal Nature Biotechnology said a therapy discovered at CHEO 19 years ago, called SMAC Mimetics, works very well when combined with live-virus therapies — which is when a special virus is injected into a tumour to attack it.

The news release said while each therapy had been "working well" on its own,  they hadn’t been yielding substantial results — until they were combined and their tumour-killing effect amplified, exceeding the expectations of CHEO’s most senior scientist.

"Our combination approach is quite different than standard chemotherapy treatments that can have significant negative side-effects," said Dr. Robert Korneluk in the news release.

"I firmly believe that it’s not a matter of ‘if’ this will help cancer patients — but ‘when’ this therapy becomes a standard of care."

CHEO said they required 10,000 times less virus to kill a cancer cell when a SMAC mimetic was added.

The news release said the research team believes this combined approach is likely best suited for specific uses against specific cancers, such as tumours that can’t be surgically removed.

CHEO said this discovery could save years of development time.